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Erasing bad memories

A commonly prescribed blood pressure pill has been used to help people forget bad memories, according to a Dutch study.

In the study, beta-blocker propranolol weakened fearful memories of spiders.

The bad memory study

The study involved 60 students aged 18 to 28 years who viewed pictures of spiders a received a mild electrical shock to the hand. This created a fearful memory.

Other students saw the same pictures but did not receive shock. These people viewed the spider pictures without fear or bad memory.

After 1 day, the researchers randomly gave each student either; 40 milligrams of propranolol (beta-blocker) or a placebo. After an hour and a half they asked the students to view the spider pictures again.

The students who received the beta-blocker propranolol showed no return of fear when viewing the spider pictures, suggesting the entire fear memory was removed.

What the researchers say …

Researcher Merel Kindt from the University of Amsterdam, who led the study said, “We could show that the fear response went away (with beta-blockers), which suggests the memory was weakened.”

The study was published in Nature Neuroscience.

How the study can help

Researchers feel that beta blockers have the potential to help those suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.

The usual treatment for those with post traumatic stress disorders is try to block bad memories and build new associations. However, frequently people often relapse and the fear and bad memories return.

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